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Mile High Monday: The language of the NFL is money

(Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was a crazy week of free agency around the National Football League. Things kicked off with the “legal tampering” period on Monday and the new league year officially kicked off on Wednesday. Needless to say, there was plenty of news to keep up with from around the NFL and sports fans were eating it up.

I like the craziness of this time of year in the NFL. Who knows what other delays are going to be caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but for now, we can dream about a 2020 NFL season where this newly acquired talent will get to show off for their respective teams.

The Broncos have been getting varying grades for their work in the new league year. And they’ll be one of the teams who could make a playoff run after missing the postseason in 2019.

I also like contemplating life and sports when driving around with the top down on my old Jeep TJ – even in March! The following is a result of those trips during the week.

Buckle up, let’s take a ride through my thoughts.

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The Language of the NFL is Money

I must have said “the language of the NFL is money” at least a thousand times and it rings true each and every year. On Friday, the Broncos spoke in a big way about the running back position when they signed veteran running back Melvin Gordon to a two-year deal. The deal is reportedly worth $16 million with $13.5 million guaranteed and with an $8 million per year average; it makes Gordon the sixth-highest paid running back (in that metric) in the NFL.

With that contract, it makes Gordon the top back on the depth chart. So, what does that mean for Phillip Lindsay? The Broncos may try a two-back approach in 2020, but there is going to be one of those backs who gets more touches and gets more work and that is likely to be Gordon.

Lindsay has been outstanding during the last two years as the only undrafted free agent to begin his career with back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. He’s not been as much of a receiver out of the backfield as he would need to be in the new Pat Shurmur offense, which is where Gordon can step in as a more well-rounded option.

One could debate all day who is the better runner, and many could say that Lindsay is that man. He has looked better over the last two years running the ball than Gordon, and Lindsay has even been faster when hitting the line of scrimmage. In 2019, Lindsay had a miles-per-hour average of 10.63 compared to Gordon at 9.78 when hitting the line of scrimmage. Lindsay may not have the same long speed as Gordon, but he has been getting to top speed faster and the data (thanks NextGen Stats!) shows that.

Debate running all you want, but realistically look at the receiving ability of both and one can quickly realize that Gordon is better in that department. It’s not just the number of receptions each has had (Gordon had 42 catches in 12 games, Lindsay had 35 catches in 16 games), or the average per catch (Gordon 7.05, Lindsay 5.60) or receiving yards (Gordon 296, Lindsay 196). It’s the way they catch the ball. Gordon has natural hands and does a good job of looking in passes while Lindsay had the second-highest drop rate percentage (10.2 percent) in the NFL last year only second to Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams.

It was easy to see the Broncos were looking for running back help, and they chose to go after Gordon for a reason. They chose to pay Gordon that much money for a reason too – and that is to be their lead back. We’ll see how things shake out on the depth chart in training camp. I know that Lindsay will put up a great fight to remain at the top.

In order to win the job, Lindsay will have to prove to the coaching staff that he can be a more natural receiver. Even though this complicates the backfield a bit, I like the fact the Broncos at least upgraded from Royce Freeman and give themselves another great option at the running back position.

***

All About Lock

The Broncos needed to add talent to the quarterback room behind starter Drew Lock, especially because we all knew they were going to move on from Joe Flacco. They did that this week when they signed former Lions backup quarterback Jeff Driskel.

This move emphasizes just how much this team is going “all in” on Lock. I love the move to get Driskel because he gives you the experience that a guy like Brandon Allen doesn’t have and it sends a clear message that this team is Lock’s to command.

I’ve always appreciated Driskel’s game even though he’s just a backup-caliber quarterback. I watched Driskel at the Senior Bowl back in 2016 (along with Allen) and liked what he showed as a quarterback who can keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield.

He was an emergency starter for the Lions last year after Matthew Stafford went down with a back injury. Driskel made it through three games before a hamstring injury ended his season. While he looked uncomfortable as a passer, he did rush for an average 50 yards in each game. He’s not going to win you a ton of games if he has to start, but Driskel is not going to be overwhelmed. This was a good move that gives the Broncos an upgrade.

Lock has a tremendous work ethic and does not need anyone behind him to push him for greatness. If he was that type of quarterback, Lock would not be the answer for the Broncos. We don’t know if Lock will perform like a franchise quarterback in the future, but it won’t be for a lack of trying. Lock wants to be great and that desire, along with his natural skill set, could mean great things for the Broncos’ future.

***

Not Just a Blocker

The Broncos added to the tight end room over the weekend when they signed veteran Nick Vannett. Reporters and fans looked at Vannett’s average numbers as a receiver and quickly formed the opinion that he was just a blocking tight end.

That’s simply not the case. Anyone who knows his game or scouted him coming out of college know that Vannett can be used more as a receiver than some think.

Vannett was college teammates with Jeff Heuerman at Ohio State and both were third-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. While Vannett was seen as the better receiving option by the scouting community, Heuerman was seen as a blocker who might improve as a receiver in the pros. During their pro careers, Heuerman has struggled to stay healthy and has not developed as a receiver. Vannett has nearly the same stats as Heuerman in the NFL as a receiver, but he has developed into a better blocker.

During his career with the Buckeyes, and even flashing at times with the Seahawks and the Steelers, Vannett showed good concentration as a receiver. He knows how to use his frame to box out smaller defenders and can be utilized in the red zone if needed.

Yes, Vannett is mostly going to be a blocking tight end for the Broncos. Noah Fant is the clear-cut starter and by far the best receiving weapon at the position. However, categorizing him as just a blocker is incorrect. Instead, I think the Broncos picked up a fine “Y” (all-purpose) tight end to play behind Fant and alongside Fant when the team goes with two-tight end sets.

***

Blueprint

Growing up on the eastern plains in Colorado, I dreamed of being a comic book artist. The artist that I loved the most was Todd McFarlane. I first ran across his work when he was the artist on “The Amazing Spiderman” and have followed him closely since.

Life happens and for several reasons I won’t get into here, I did not reach my dream of drawing comic books professionally. I tried, and almost worked for Legend Comics back in the 1990s, but they went out of business before any of my work could be featured. Instead of working harder for my dream, I ended up taking a different career path – one that led me to radio.

I started on the air as a caller to “Irv and Joe” on The Fan and would call in to Jim Rome’s national show from time to time. I was a machinist at the time in Arvada making firefighting equipment, but I wanted to be on the radio. I even told my boss at the machine shop that I was going to be on the radio talking football and he laughed at me (thanks for the motivation Bob!).

In 2003, Mark Schlereth gave me a chance to be on his show once a week talking fantasy football for an hour on Fridays. I worked for four years on the air with no pay (still grinding at the machine shop) before getting my first paid radio gig on The Fan in 2007. Fast forward 13 more years and here we are with my own show on The Fan and a presence in the football media that I have worked hard to achieve.

Now in my 40s, I still have the dream of being a comic book creator. I have five different properties that I’m shopping around Hollywood with the hopes of turning some of my comic book ideas into movies or TV shows. I self-publish an independent comic “Gravis,” which you can find at stores around Denver or purchase online.

Each week when I’m writing, I happen across this great interview with McFarlane. His tenacity in art and business is something I appreciate and try to emulate in my work – both in football and comic books. This is a 40-minute interview, but it is well worth it if you are a dreamer like me.

I was told by my producer one time that I’m the only person he knows who has a “dream job” and wants to get another “dream job” too. Whatever you want to do, I say go for it. Do not give up on your dreams, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity. Stay drive, stay focused and make it happen!

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